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Graduate Summer Research Grants


The Program in American Studies invites applications for a small number of research grants to graduate students working towards Ph.D. degrees in departments associated with the Program.  We expect to make no more than three such awards:
Up to two grants, each for no more than $4,000, may go to students who are not yet committed to a particular dissertation topic, but who wish to use the research award to explore in a preliminary way the possibility of working on a topic dealing with American Studies.  The expectation is that these awards will go to students for use during their first or second summers as Ph.D. students at Princeton. Applications must include the following:  a project proposal up to five pages in length, a research budget, a letter of recommendation from a faculty advisor, a cv, and a description of how they propose to use the resources we offer.

In addition a third grant, in the amount of $5,000, may go to an exceptional post-enrollment student working on a dissertation that shows significant engagement with the field of American Studies.  Applications must include the following:  a dissertation abstract, at least one completed chapter from the dissertation, a letter of recommendation from the dissertation advisor, a cv, and a description of how the applicant intends to use the prize money.

We expect award recipients to present their work during the 2016-17 academic year in the graduate salon of the Program in American Studies and to participate in the American Studies Workshop and in other events and activities of the Program.

Students must apply for these grants through the University's SAFE website.  The application deadline is February 15, 2016, with awards announced by May 1.  Application must be made online at SAFE:

Kellen Funk, Department of History. Since the late nineteenth century, the administration of civil justice in America has diverged sharply from the rest of the world’s legal systems. Relative to other countries, American lawyers command more prestige (and higher salaries) than judges and exert more control over litigation. My dissertation, The Lawyers’ Code: The Transformation of American Legal Practice, explores the origins of this trend, which began in 1850 when a commission of New York trial lawyers drafted a code that reoriented legal practice towards their interests. The code abolished all regulation of attorneys’ fees, gave lawyers the power to waive jury trials, and allowed pretrial investigation outside of judicial supervision. The code proved popular among elite American lawyers, as over thirty other states and territories enacted it by 1900, and the 1938 federal rules of practice closely followed its reforms. My dissertation seeks to understand legal practice within its political and cultural context and thus examines Jacksonian political appeals of lawyers who conceived of law as an artisan craft and Protestant theological assumptions that made “common sense” pleading and oath-taking secure indicators of legal truth. State code commissions were some of the first administrative lawmaking bodies in the American constitutional order, yet political and cultural distrust of centralized expert authority bound their work to the rhythms of the legislative calendar. With too little time for commissioners to draft—or legislators to review—comprehensive statutes in a single session, states opted to copy New York’s code and allow a powerful cadre of lawyers to substitute for a robust administrative state.

Sofia Pinedo-Padoch, Department of Anthropology.  What is left of life after death? My research explores the legal and bureaucratic articulations of lives after individuals pass away without a last testament or any known next of kin. I have been conducting fieldwork at the King’s County Public Administrator’s Office, which is tasked with administering the estates of all Brooklyn, New York residents who die intestate. My focus is two-fold. First, I explore what “matters” after an individual passes away without beneficiaries – which remnants of a life become important and which disappear? What kind of life story takes shape when the State administers an estate? Second, I look at how estates are then dealt with en masse by an office with limited resources. Cases arrive in the office constantly from every neighborhood and enclave in Brooklyn. The “decedents,” as the deceased are called, run the gamut from multi-millionaires to the homeless. The work of the public administrator delves into the specifics of myriad life stories and kinship connections, but at the same time, is forced to treat individual stories as systematically organized files in a rapidly expanding archive. How is this tension between the specific and the systematic negotiated in daily office life? I hope to use my work at the public administrator’s office as a unique lens through which to view the dynamic and diverse population of New York City. 

Matt Tokeshi, Department of Politics.   My dissertation examines a neglected but important puzzle in American election campaigns. Despite notable African American gains in elections, success at the statewide level has been elusive. Only five states have ever elected an African American governor or U.S. Senator. Why are African American governors and Senators still so rare? To answer this question, I conducted a set of original voter surveys in real-time during actual campaigns, combined with a content analysis of news, campaign spending, and election results in all relevant states, and supplemented this data with two original experiments. The results offer four major findings. First, African American candidates are attacked more often than comparable white candidates on themes that evoke racial stereotypes, such as crime and welfare. Second, these attacks diminish support among white voters with ambivalent or negative attitudes toward African Americans – a wide swath of voters in statewide elections. Third, the attacked candidates use a variety of rhetorical strategies to respond to these attacks, and some are vastly more successful than others. Fourth, when I systematically analyze each strategy, I find that rebutting these attacks by calling attention to their racial nature backfires against African Americans but serves identical white candidates well, pointing to a racial disadvantage for African American candidates. However, a number of other rebuttal types restore their favorability ratings. Together, these analyses demonstrate that although African American candidates are constrained by race, they can nevertheless find effective ways to respond to attacks they tend to encounter when attempting to reach the highest offices in the United States. My findings advance a central line of research in American racial politics on the conditions that activate racial animosity. Existing studies find that campaign messages that highlight negative stereotypes of African Americans can activate racial stereotypes, fears, or resentments among white voters. However, this research has not taken into account an important fact: that attacked candidates often respond to these negative messages. Elections are not a single-shot event, and messages that activate stereotypes do not exist in isolation. I find that some rebuttals succeed in deactivating racial animosity. Thus, while the existing literature focuses on how campaigns activate racial prejudice, my research shows the circumstances that overcome prejudice. 

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  • Sharon J. Cornelissen, Department of Sociology
  • Kellen Funk,
    Department of History
  • Casey N. Hedstrom, Department of History
  • Sofia Pinedo-Padoch, Department of Anthropology
  • Matthew N. Tokeshi, Department of Politics